Here's What You Need to Remember: The AFRL THOR program has taken on the challenge to design, build and test an effective counter-unmanned aircraft system that could engage many targets at once, and at long distances. High-power microwaves have been seen as one solution to this challenge.
You don’t need to be a Marvel superheroes fan to know that Thor is the god of thunder. Now the U.S. Army is calling in the god-like powers, not of Thor but rather THOR—the Tactical High Power Operational Responder. This system, which was developed by the United States Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL’s) Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB), can address the increasing threat posed by enemy drones and other airborne threats.
While still in the prototype stage, THOR doesn't have a mighty hammer, but rather utilizes directed energy to disable the electronics in drones. It was specifically engineered to counter multiple targets including drone swarms with rapid results.
It is compact enough that the platform can be housed in a twenty-foot-long shipping container and can thus be stowed and transported via a military cargo plane, and when deployed in the field can be assembled by just to people. And much like the fictional Avengers, this is clearly a team effort that involves the Army and Air Force.
“The Army’s directed energy capabilities will need to provide a layered defense with multiple ways to defeat incoming threats,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy Space and Rapid Acquisition.
“High energy lasers kill one target at a time, and high powered microwaves can kill groups or swarms, which is why we are pursuing a combination of both technologies for our Indirect Fire Protection Capability rapid prototyping effort," added Thurgood. "Our partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory gave the Army a running start on the high power microwave mission, and we look forward to continuing to advance these capabilities to protect our warfighters.”
The AFRL THOR program has taken on the challenge to design, build and test an effective counter-UAS (unmanned aerial systems) that could engage many targets at once, and at long distances. High-power microwaves have been seen as one solution to this challenge.
“The system output is powerful radio wave bursts, which offer a greater engagement range than bullets or nets, and its effects are silent and instantaneous,” said Amber Anderson, THOR program manager.
THOR may not have to battle super villains, but rather it is addressing a rather serious emerging threat to U.S. military bases, personnel and infrastructure. The platform is now in the prototype stage and is undergoing a series of risk reduction and system characterization efforts at Kirtland AFB, along with hands-on Soldier touchpoints that solicit input from operational users during the testing.
“THOR, and other DE systems, provide non-kinetic defeat of multiple targets at once,” Thurgood said, commenting on system demonstration that took place in a remote canyon of the 52,000-acre base. “Keeping our Soldiers safe is our number one priority, and we need to employ effective defensive weapons systems to stay ahead of the changing threats presented by our adversaries.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.